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Merlin he loved his job, but he loathed work parties. This hate stemmed from the need to wear a tie and talk to boring donors.  Arthur would tell him that as the assistant to Head of Networking, Merlin should have worn a tie every day (and not just during work events) and that Merlin should never speak to any of the donors after what happened last time (when Merlin used “too colorful language for some people” as Arthur described it). Merlin took a sip of his wine and searched the crowd for said Head of Networking. Arthur was amongst a group of what looked like particularly boring set of donors, suit perfectly pressed and his blond hair styled so that it was off his brow, which gave him a dignified look (Merlin preferred “dapper” but Arthur had scowled at him when he said that).

Arthur listened to something the donor said, and then he tipped his head back in a loud guffaw.  After a moment, as if he could feel Merlin’s gaze, Arthur turned to find Merlin across the room. Arthur gave him a glare which Merlin assumed meant Merlin was doing something Arthur had told him not to do. Probably drinking the wine. So Merlin held up his wine and toasted it to Arthur. His boss rolled his eyes and turned back to the donors.

On the other said of the ballroom, someone walked across the stage and tapped on the microphone, dragging everyone’s attentions from their conversations to the speaker.

“Hello! Happy Pride everyone! I hope everyone is having a pleasant evening so far. Before I have Annis Caerleon step forward and give her speak, I would like to thank the donors for tonight’s Camelot City LGBT Fundraiser.”

The crowd gave applause as the man listed off the donors and then followed with the nonprofits represented that evening. Then he introduced Annis Caerleon.

“Welcome.” Annis spoke to the crowd, her words firm and clear, “As many of you already know, I started Pride&Support eleven years ago after my son was one of the thirteen killed at the Pride March in downtown Camelot. A celebration and parade turned to chaos and terror. I started this organization for my son- in his memory- so that we may spread support in the hope that one day such events will be only history.”

Her speech continued and Merlin listened intently. As a young man, Merlin’s dream job was to work at a non-profit like Pride&Support. Annis’ organization did a variety of work from fundraising for queer charities and shelters, to creating programs for HIV/AIDS awareness and testing, to aiding Camelot City’s homeless youth which, like many big cities, a quarter identified as part of the LGBT community.

Despite being at his dream-organization, initially Merlin had not been happy about it. To say the least, Merlin had not wanted to be a personal assistant, even at his dream organization, and especially to a posh prat like Arthur.

But then he got to know his boss, and he hated to admit it but Arthur was worth it. He was dedicated to his job and despite his cold exterior he was all mush on the inside. And alright, Merlin would admit that he might be a little head over heels for his boss. To be fair, no one saw how hard Arthur slaved over every assignment sent his way than his personal assistant. Only a PA like Merlin was witness to how much Arthur cared about every person he helped and how every project was treated like it would save the world. He was full of grandeur, and maybe his hope filled Merlin’s heart with pride, and wasn’t that the point of Annis’ organization after all?

Turning his attention back to Annis, Merlin heard her last remarks before the party gave her a round of applause.

“To this year’s Pride. To those we’ve lost.” Annis held out her drink and toasted the crowd.

Merlin was barely done drinking to the toast than Arthur was by his side.

Merlin.”

“Yes?” Merlin asked innocently.

“What did I say about drinking?” Arthur asked, playing along.

“To do as much as possible because I can hold my liquor like a sailor?” Merlin grinned, knowing Arthur had told him to do the exact opposite. “Come on, Arthur. You don’t even need me here.”

Arthur rolled his eyes, “Yes, I do.”

A lie, a poorly concealed one.

Merlin gave him a sly grin, “If I get pissed does that mean I can go home early?”

Arthur glared at him, “Like Hell, you heathen.  I need you to remember who I talk and which organization they belong to, so we can make connections starting next week.”

Merlin wrinkled his nose, just for the fun of it, because he had known that was exactly why Arthur had brought him along. “Alright, you posh prat. You need a plebeian like me to do your work for you.”

Like always Arthur answered: “Not a posh prat” His aristocratic accent contradicting the statement. “Now come along, Merlin.”

Arthur grabbed his arm and dragged him along for the rest of the evening.

***

The following Monday morning, Merlin knocked on Arthur’s office door, but he didn’t wait for Arthur to answer. Arthur hated when he did that. But Merlin had been Arthur’s PA (and friend) long enough that they both expected it and accepted it.

Right on cue, Merlin walked in and Arthur rolled his eyes when he looked up to see who it was.

“Do you ever learn, Merlin?”

“Probably not, but you haven’t sacked me yet, so I must be doing something right.” Merlin smiled, knowing it would make Arthur crumble in a second.

Arthur sighed, “What do you have for me?”

Merlin held up his clipboard with Arthur’s agenda and list of messages that he had been filtering through all morning. “You remember your lunch meeting with Annis and the board?”

“Of course, Annis would sack me in a second if I wasn’t there with our presentation.” Arthur held his flashdrive between two fingers.

“Perfect.” Merlin checked it off. “Cenred Erwood called. He really wants to have lunch with you. And by that I mean, he rung only to yell at me because he thinks I didn’t give you his eighth message.”

“God, what a bastard.” Arthur groaned, “Tell him to arrange a lunch meeting next week. A short one. Make it before my meeting with Annis.”

Merlin shook his head- but still jotted it down. Personally, if Merlin was in charge of this department he would have told Cenred that Pride&Support would never work with him, but Arthur was a better diplomat in that way. Merlin would have told Cenred to fuck off and Arthur would have lunch with him and then tell him it just wasn’t possible to collaborate at the moment. That was probably a more suitable plan and why Arthur was so good at his job.

Merlin continued. “Leon called. Wants to know when you are free to go see a film this weekend?” Merlin grinned, “Are you sure you’re not seeing him?”

Arthur snorted out a laugh, “Leon’s never figured out how to stop sounding like a clingy boyfriend. That’s what happened when you have known someone since you were sixteen. Tell him Saturday.”

“Should I order flowers, sir?”

Merlin.” His voice was stern but Merlin could tell he was holding back a smile.

“Alright, alright” Merlin put down another check mark on his list. “There’s only a couple other things. I’ve drawn up that list of donors from this weekend’s fundraiser and it will be on your desk in an hour or so. Gilli Brys, he asked for an interview- and yes I’ve already forwarded his resume to you. I received another email from George from accounting, so you should call him- persistent man- and I have a message from a Luther Pendragon who left his number and asked when you would be free for a meeting. The only other engagement you had today was about the social media manager who wanted to know about-”

“Stop.”

Merlin did so, and looked up. He was surprised to see that Arthur looked horrified. Merlin looked down at his list, wondering what he had forgotten. Arthur stood up and knocked over his mug full of pens, not bothering to sit it upright again as he quickly rounded his desk. He grabbed the clipboard out of Merlin’s hands.

“Hey!” Merlin squawked.

Arthur ignored him as his finger scanned the to-do list. Merlin was half afraid Arthur would reprimand him for listing Arthur as ‘Prince Prat’ and Annis as ‘The Final Boss.’ But Arthur didn’t seem to even see the other names.

“It’s Uther.”

“What?”

“It’s not Luther Pendragon. It’s Uther. Uther Pendragon.” His voice sounded off, as if it wasn’t Arthur’s anymore. But Merlin couldn’t put his finger on it.

“Uther? Okay, better fix that before I call him the wrong name. Never heard of an Uther before. You know him?”

Arthur didn’t answer.  Instead he sat in the nearest chair, the guest chair across from his own and asked, “What did he say? His exact words.”

By the way Arthur looked Merlin decided to hold back his questions, and answered Arthur’s carefully. “He told me his name, and then asked if you were in. I told him you were busy and that I would take a message for you. He just said that he wished to set up a meeting and then left his number. That was it.”

“He asked for me by name?” Arthur’s brows were pinched.

“Yes…” Merlin said, wondering if Arthur had lost his mind. “He asked for Arthur de Bois. Who else?”

“My God” Arthur exhaled, and for a second Merlin was shocked to see Arthur’s hand tremble as he pushed his hair off his forehead.

“Have I forgotten an important donor?” Although Merlin doubted anything like that would make Arthur so anxious. But nothing else seemed to make sense.

Arthur laughed a bit, “No Merlin you have not.” Arthur stood up and went back to chair, almost as if nothing had happened, making Merlin think that he had imagined Arthur’s shift in mood. “If he calls again, do what you did before and tell him I’m busy.”

Merlin felt his brow rise in surprise, “You’re not calling him back.”

“No.” Arthur said, “If he calls a third time, give him the same message and then block the number.”

That surprised Merlin even further. “Block him? That’s fairly serious, Arthur. Who is this?”

“A man I used to know. I’m serious Merlin, if he calls a third time.” He made a vague gesture that Merlin assumed meant to block the number.

“Alright, if you think it’s for the best.” Merlin put a note next to the name Uther Luther Pendragon.

***

It was a little over a week later when Uther Pendragon called again. Merlin had been thinking on and off about the man and his mysterious ties to Arthur, but he had yet had the audacity to ask Arthur directly. He was waiting for a free weekend where he could get a drink or two into Arthur, since he was always much more relaxed when there was beer around.

“Mr. de Bois’ office, this is Merlin speaking.” Merlin twirled his pen idly as he answered the phone. His feet were on the desk and Arthur was rolling his eyes at him from across the office.

“This is Uther Pendragon.”

Merlin dropped the pen and his feet to the ground, stumbling loudly for a second.  

He scrambled to pick up the pen. “Hello, Mr. Pendragon. How may I help you?”

Merlin saw Arthur’s head jerk up suddenly.

“I wish to speak to Arthur.” The man’s voice was commanding but faint. Merlin clicked the volume up on his receiver.

“I’m afraid Mr. de Bois is busy at the moment.” Merlin said, eyes glued to Arthur who looked like he was about to be sick all over his files.

There was a sigh on the other side of the phone. Then the man said, “If he manages to take a few minutes to call me back to arrange a meeting...” There was a pause and another sigh. “Here’s my number.”

Merlin wrote down the number- just out of habit- and then said goodbye to Mr. Pendragon.

“What did he say?” Arthur asked as soon as Merlin set down the phone.

“Same as before. Just wanted you to call him back to set up a meeting.”

“Is this the first time he called since last week?”

Merlin nodded.

“Huh.” Arthur seemed surprised. “I didn’t think he had it in him to call back. Must be dying.”

“What?” Merlin’s eyes widened.

“Nothing-”

“It is not ‘nothing!’ What is going on? You look like you’re either going to throw a tantrum or keel over.”

“Keep your fucking nose out of it.” Arthur’s tone was so sharp that for once Merlin was actually stung by the insult, so much so that he could not manage the breath to recover with any kind of remark before Arthur turned and slammed his door shut.

Merlin stared at the blank door, feeling bereft. Because despite Arthur’s tight as a clam nature when it came to his emotions, he usually opened up to Merlin.  Gathering up his own emotions, Merlin let out a long breath. In the end, he knew when not to pry at Arthur’s walled-up exterior. He would have to play the waiting game on this one.

***

It was only a day later when Arthur called Merlin into his office. They hadn’t talked since Arthur snapped at him the day before, and Merlin was beginning to worry that he would have to go into Arthur’s office and start an argument just to get Arthur to open up.

Arthur’s voice sounded from behind him. “Merlin?”

“Yeah?” Merlin hesitantly looked up from his work, over his shoulder at Arthur’s open office door.

“Come in here.” Arthur’s voice came again.

Normally Merlin would have made a retort of some nature about Arthur’s laziness, but Arthur’s voice sounded weak- like he had been shouting. So Merlin did as bid and went to Arthur.

“Do you need me?” Merlin asked.

“Just...Stay there.” Arthur gestured to the chair across his desk.

“Okay.” Merlin sat, although he hadn’t a clue what had gotten into Arthur.

Arthur tapped in a phone number by heart and they listened to the ring on the speaker. Arthur stared at the phone, looking like he was about to take down an entire business in his sleek suit and his back as straight as a pole.

A woman’s voice said, “Uther Pendragon’s office.”

Merlin had to actually bite his lips to stop the surprised noise from coming out of him.

Arthur looked up at Merlin for a second and Merlin saw something unreadable in his eyes.

“This is Arthur de Bois.”

The secretary on the other end paused for a long time, so long that Merlin had thought that she had ended the call.

Then she spoke. “Arthur?”

“Hello, Mary. Is he in?”

“Oh Lord. It is you. He’s in, just give me a minute.” There was a noise of a button clicking and then hold-music began to play.

“What the hell is going on?” Merlin was stopped by Arthur’s hand telling him to stop talking and sure enough only a few seconds later the button clicked again.

“Okay Arthur I’m patching you through now.”

“Thank you, Mary.”

“It’s good to hear from you, Arthur.” She said softly.

“Is it?” Arthur’s voice was harsh.

There was a pause, like she meant to say something. She must have decided against it, because there was a click and then a man’s voice which Merlin recognized. “Arthur?”

“Hello, Uther.”

“Arthur,” The name was said on a relieved sigh. “I admit, I didn’t think you would return my messages.”

“Why have you called me?” Arthur asked, straight to business.

Uther cleared his throat. “I hoped to arrange a meeting.”

Arthur didn’t respond. Merlin watched, wondering if Arthur’s harsh gaze would burn the phone where it sat in its cradle.

“Hello?” Uther said with uncertainty.

“Was that all?” Arthur asked. “A lunch meeting?”

“I had hoped we would talk more in person. Face to face.” Uther said, “We could arrange a time and place to talk. We could discuss an arrangement-”

If you are arrogant enough to think-” Arthur took in a deep breath and Merlin watched him close his eyes and seemingly count to ten in his mind. “You must know that that any arrangement would be impossible.”

“I understand that you think that, but it has been years. We are both men now. We can come to an understanding.”

“I tried to come to an understanding, as you say, a decade ago.”

Merlin’s brows pinched. A decade? Arthur would have only been-

“I know what happened, but you are still my son and I would-”

Merlin didn’t have time to so much as gasp, let along process these words, before Arthur was yelling.

I am no such thing.” Arthur stood up but his eyes remained on the phone as if he could see the man through the line. “How dare you. I haven’t been your son since I was sixteen years old. That was your decision, not mine. So unless you have something urgent you can tell me right now, I have no reason to meet with you.”

“I wished to- I had hoped to negotiate a chance to renew our relationship.”

Negotiate.” Arthur laughed. It was a bitter and harsh sound, unlike Arthur’s real guffaw. “You always did want to negotiate my life. You had a chance to meet with me over the years. Several, actually. You never took them.” Arthur’s fists curled, “If you call me again I will have my PA block your number- who will act as witness to anything you say, so do not hesitate to speak your mind. If you come to my place of work, I won’t hesitate to file a restraining order.”

“Arthur, be reasonable-”

Go to hell.”

Arthur jammed the receiver down and when that didn’t seem satisfying enough he picked up the entire thing and threw it against the wall. It broke into pieces, plastic hanging off of wires and buttons.

Merlin sat as still as stone, shocked into a surreal state of calm. He wasn’t sure what to make of any of what had just passed. Arthur wasn’t facing him, instead looking out at his window. His shoulders were moving as if he was breathing hard.

“I’m sorry to have you involved.” Arthur said calmly, despite the ferocity of his movements only moments before. “If that had gone poorly, I would have needed you as a witness.”

“That was it going well?” Merlin asked, his voice skyrocketing.

Arthur laughed, the sound still not right.

“Arthur, why didn’t you tell me Uther Pendragon was your-”

“He is not my father.” Arthur snapped, looking behind himself only for a second before turning back to the window. In that split second Merlin saw the rage in Arthur’s eyes. He was always quick to temper, but Merlin had a feeling that this time it wasn’t his short-temper that caused such an outburst. “You are dismissed, Merlin.”

“Arthur, you obviously wanted me here for....support. I just want to help.”

“I’m fine.” Arthur said, “Thank you for acting as a witness. You may leave.”

Merlin opened his mouth to speak but Arthur’s back was turned to him and he seemed more closed off than ever.

“Fine, but don’t think I’ll let this lie.” Merlin left Arthur in his office, wondering what the hell he was going to do now.

***

By the time that Merlin went on his lunch break, he had still not seen Arthur since that morning’s call. Out of ideas about what to do, Merlin pulled out his personal mobile.

Leon answered the phone after a couple rings. “Hey Merlin! You don’t usually call me in the middle of the day, but it’s nice to hear from you.”

“Yeah, how’s it going Leon?”

“It’s good. Arthur giving you a hard time? Need me to talk to him?” Leon laughed at their usual joke.

Merlin winced a little. “Something like that.  I think he just called his father?”

Leon paused.

“I’m sorry, he just what?”

“He's a bit-” Merlin made a strange noise that he could not readily describe. “I'm just not sure what to do. Do you know what I should say to him? Or maybe you can talk to him?”

“I'll be over there in fifteen minutes” Leon said, sounding worried.

“Oh.” Merlin realized it was that bad. “You don't have to…”

“Oh yes, I do.” Then, to Merlin's surprise, Leon ended the call.

True to his word, Leon arrived fifteen minutes later.

Merlin grabbed his arm before he went through Arthur’s closed office door. “What's going on? Tell me now, Leon. I'm not playing.”

“I'm not sure. Uther hasn't talked to Arthur in- God. It must be years now.”

“Why?” Merlin persisted.

“If Arthur hasn’t told you, I’m not about to.” Ever loyal, Leon then pushed Merlin away and then through Arthur’s office.

Merlin heard Arthur’s voice first, “Merlin called you, didn’t he?”

What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Leon shouted. Merlin was again, surprised to hear such harsh language from Leon.

Merlin poked his head into the office but Arthur’s eyes were immediately on him. “Get out!”

“But I just-”

Out!” Arthur pushed him out of the doorframe and slammed the door in his face.

Merlin gaped for a second, and then grumbled at Arthur’s sound-proof office. Damned confidentiality business deals and Arthur’s clam-tight nature.

Merlin pouted at his desk, his mind running over one thing and another, trying to puzzle out Arthur’s behavior. He had a sinking feeling he knew what was happening, but he had yet to truly connect all the pieces.

The door opened behind him and he jumped to his feet.

Arthur exited his office with his coat and satchel in hand, followed by Leon.

“Merlin, cancel the Mercia appointment today. Tell them I have unexpectedly caught the flu.”

“Yes, sir” Merlin said. Arthur hadn’t missed a day of work in all the years Merlin had known him. Well, expect for that one time when he over-worked himself and actually caught the flu. Arthur rarely missed work and he doubted Mercia would believe it, but Merlin made the note anyways.

“Where you are headed to?”

Leon answered for Arthur, “My place.”

Arthur did not look happy about this.

“What, having a few beers and not inviting me?” Merlin said, hoping to lighten the mood. The joke fell flat.

Arthur rolled his eyes and pushed past him to the lift, looking angrier than ever.

Merlin hissed to Leon, “If you think I'm not going to whittle it out of you two, then you are delusional.”

Leon sighed, “I know. Let me talk to him.” Then he caught up with Arthur, leaving Merlin confused and a bit hollow.

***

Merlin had grown up in a small town. The provincial atmosphere meant that he hadn’t always been surrounded by the most supportive people. It wasn’t that Merlin had grown up in a hostile environment, because his mother and his best friend Will had always been supportive of his sexuality, but on the greater scale, the people of his village either treated him like the Village Queer or like a Damned Heathen.

When he was fifteen, Merlin had come out to his mother in a rather roundabout way. Merlin and his mother had been sitting at the kitchen table, drinking tea and talking about everything and nothing for hours on end. Sometimes they did that. Merlin had always been close to his mother- the only family he had ever known- and he loved talking with her.

He had said “I don’t know, mum. I never fancied a girl. Is that odd?”

“No sweetheart, not at all.” Hunith had said, “No one has to fancy anyone.”

“What’s it like to fancy someone? Maybe I have but I don’t know what it’s like so I only think I haven’t.”

“Well,” Hunith had said thoughtfully, “I suppose it is wanting to be with that person. Wanting to tell them about things you have seen that made you think of them. Wanting to hold them close and thinking they look nice. Feeling all warm and fuzzy when you see them.”

“But that’s silly. I think that about my friends. Sean- that bloke from maths- I always tell him about the birds we see on our walks because he told me his Gran has a bird and he wanted one. Plus he always looks nice. With his red hair and freckles. All the girls go giddy over him.”

Hunith had given Merlin a look, hiding a smile behind her cup of tea.

Merlin had blushed fiercely when he realized what he had said.

“Is that what a fancy is?” Merlin had asked tentatively.

“It might be.” Hunith had replied diplomatically.

“But… But…” Merlin had looked at his hands, all long and awkward on his thin fifteen-year-old body.

“My boy, let me ask you this. If Sean burst through that door and said he fancied you, right here, right now. Would you be happy?”

Merlin had had looked away, unable to stop the bashful grin that came over him at the thought.

Hunith had smiled, “That is what it is like to fancy someone.”

Merlin had squirmed, “Even if he’s a boy?”

“Even if he’s a boy.”

That had been the end of it.

Merlin told his mum when he first kissed a boy. He went to her when he had been confused over liking a girl. She had been there when he went to his first Pride parade with pink, purple, and blue painted across his cheek. Hunith had been with him every step of the way.

Merlin was painfully aware that his mother was an outlier.

He had listened to friends and colleagues talk about their parents being stand-offish about their sexuality. He heard others say that their parents had forced them back into the closet. Even worse, others who had been disowned.

Merlin had never thought one of those people would have been Arthur.

When Merlin first started working for Arthur, he had naively thought Arthur was straight. They worked in an LGBT support organization, but Merlin had given Arthur de Bois one look and thought ‘Gorgeous, but Straight.’ Of course, he should have known that Annis would not have hired a straight man to head the department of networking. Arthur was more or less the face of the organization when it came to partnerships and sponsorships. Merlin had only made the discovery when he saw the sole personal picture on Arthur’s desk, a snapshot of a group of friends at Pride with Arthur smack in the middle: shirtless, chest painted with sparkling glitter, and a huge sign that read ‘Gay As Hell’ with rainbow flames around the lettering. At the time, it had seemed so out-of-character that Merlin had burst out laughing and immediately cherished this glitterized version of Arthur. Ever since, Merlin had cherished the bits and pieces of that version of Arthur whenever he let that side of him show.

But Arthur had rarely talked about his sexuality. He talked about the LGBT community and he mentioned one or two passed relationships with men, but he rarely gave any personal anecdote about being gay. Merlin had only dragged an answer out of Arthur about the types of men he liked when they were both smashingly drunk (the answer had been ‘Fit as hell but like, really, really adorable. You know?’ to which Drunk-Merlin at the time thought was the deepest revelation in the world, but Sober-Merlin thought was an evasive way to answer a question).

Merlin supposed that there might have been several other reasons why Arthur would be estranged to his father, but Arthur’s sexuality was the highest on the list. Merlin’s mind flitted from one possibility to another, but his mind always strayed to that Pride photo on Arthur’s desk. Despite his reticent nature, Arthur had always been proud of his sexuality. When he spoke about being gay, he sounded defiant and forceful, like he dared anyone to tell him otherwise. Merlin thought perhaps there was a reason for that.

***

The next day Merlin sat his desk, arms crossed and eyes firm on the door so that when Arthur entered his own office, he saw his PA in a foul mood. When Arthur did eventually enter, he gave one look at Merlin and sighed.

 “After work, Merlin. After work.”

Merlin narrowed his eyes, letting Arthur know he was serious. Arthur rolled his eyes and went into his office without another comment.

It wasn’t that Merlin wanted to snoop into Arthur’ privacy. Everyone was entitled to their secrets. But Merlin had hoped Arthur and he were close enough friends for them to share some of their secrets.

At the end of the day, Arthur looked more tired than usual. So much so that Merlin felt the need to apologize.

“Look,” Merlin said as he packed his bag to leave, “It’s not really any of my business. You know I’m only worried about you, right?”

“I know,” Arthur smiled. “So let’s go grab a pint and we can talk, yeah?”

Merlin smiled and followed him out. They went to the pub and didn’t talk about anything important for most of the evening. Then they went back to Arthur’s apartment for a more personal conversation.

Merlin always liked Arthur’s apartment. It was small and full of things. When he had first gone to Arthur’s place he had expected a large furnished flat, but was pleasantly surprised to see the cramped space. There were books and boxes and an assortment of clothes always littering any available space. Arthur, despite his like of organization at work, lived in chaos and liked to cram all his belongings into a small space rather than a neat open one. Merlin wondered if Arthur was just lazy when it came to cleaning or if the cluttered space made it feel more lived in for him.

Merlin set his coat on a pile of books and kicked his shoes under Arthur’s beaten up coffee table.

“Nightcap?” Arthur said, already pouring the drinks for the two of them. It had been the first word spoke between them since they left the pub, both caught up in their own thoughts.

“Sure.” Merlin said, settling on Arthur’s couch, pulling his legs under himself and leaning back against the wool blanket laid across the back.

Arthur sat next to him, handing Merlin his drink. Merlin didn’t expect Arthur to speak right away, so he was surprised when Arthur said, “You probably already have an idea about what happened with my father.” His words were disjointed as he said ‘father.’

“Put some things together.” Merlin conceded.

Arthur nodded.

“To say that my father is homophobic would be an understatement.” Arthur started, making Merlin’s heart seize. It was exactly what he expected, but it was also exactly what he dreaded to hear.

Arthur continued. “Uther is adamantly against anything queer. Though that would have been too liberal a term for him. ‘Faggots’ would better suit his feelings.”

Merlin held back a flinch at the word. Arthur had never used such terms- avoided it even if it was in description of something concerning work- and it felt harsher on his tongue.

“If it had been up to me, I would have never told my father that I was gay. I had been going to a public school at the time and they were very conservative on what their students got up to. I learned early that being attracted to men was not allowed. But I was young, a bit rebellious, and very interested in boys. Apparently one of the teachers had caught me sneaking around the school grounds to kiss Michael Harrington. Both our fathers were immediately told about our deviant behavior.”

Arthur didn’t continue and Merlin bit his thumb, trying to keep quiet and be patient.

Eventually Arthur looked up and said, “I looked up Michael years later, you know? He told me that his father had given him hell, but eventually they came to an understanding. Michael had wondered where I had vanished to. Apparently there were rumors around school that I’d been shipped off to a Scottish boarding school. Rumors that I’m sure Uther started.”

Merlin looked down to his drink, unable to even think about taking a sip from it. When Arthur didn’t finish, Merlin had to speak up.

“Arthur…”

“It’s probably as bad as you think, Merlin.” Arthur said with a sigh. “Maybe better than that wild imagination of yours. Maybe worse.”

Arthur drank a considerable amount of his own drink. “Uther was furious when he heard about what I had done with Michael. He lectured and threatened me. Raised his hand at me. But for once in my sixteen years of life, I stood my ground against my father. To this day I think that’s what horrified Uther the most- that I was so adamant about being gay. If I had agreed to therapy or been even the least bit apologetic, it probably would have turned out different. But I hadn't been. So after hours of yelling and threatening, he kicked me out. I don’t think he expected me to actually leave.  I’m certain that he thought I would return home within the week.”

Arthur turned to look at Merlin, “But the next time I had news of Uther, it was from his lawyer. I was twenty and the lawyer told me that I had officially been disinherited. Apparently it took him those four years to understand that I wasn’t coming home.”

“Sixteen. God. You were a child.” Merlin said, hand over his heart, which ached for the man in front of him. “I’m so sorry.”

Arthur smiled, “I’ve had years to get over it. Though I do miss it sometimes. Having a father.”

“Arthur.” Merlin reached out and touched Arthur’s hand.

“Oh, don’t get all soppy on me.” Arthur huffed, although he did give Merlin a gentle smile. He turned his hand over and gave Merlin’s a squeeze before pulling away.

“Thank you for telling me.” Merlin said. “I’m sorry for being so persistent. I was worried about you.”

Arthur hesitated, “Thank you for listening. I haven’t told many people. To me, it means more than I can say that you care.”

“Of course I care. That man may not have cared, but I do.” Merlin said adamantly.

Arthur smiled and it made Merlin’s heart flutter in his chest.

Then Merlin thought of something. “He kicked you out. But where did you go? Leon’s?”

Arthur swallowed and the smile vanished from his face. “I didn’t know Leon yet.”

“But-”

“I grabbed what I could carry. Took a train and two buses into Camelot. Found a shelter. They didn’t ask my age and I didn’t tell them.”

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph…” Merlin engulfed Arthur in a hug.

“Oh, don’t-” Arthur seemed uncomfortable with the sympathy but Merlin refused not to give any affection at the moment. Eventually Arthur sighed and returned the hug. “It’s alright, Merlin. I waited it out for a couple months. Got a job as a washer. Eventually I enrolled myself in a state-school under a different name.”

The way he spoke made the ordeal sound trivial, but it had to have been anything but.

“Arthur de Bois.” Merlin said, pulling away to look up at Arthur. “You took your mother’s name.”

“How did you know?”

“You’ve only ever mentioned your mother. Igraine.”

“She passed away when I was still a toddler. I barely remember her.”

“I know.” Merlin said, remembering when Arthur had mentioned the only memory of his mother was her reading him a story about a knight. At the time he had wondered about Arthur’s father, but hadn’t pushed, grateful at all for anything personal from Arthur.

A pause and then Merlin cleared his throat.

“So you were…”

“I was homeless. For a little over three years. There’s no shame in it.” Arthur said rather proudly, though he looked down at his drink and not at Merlin.

“That’s not what I meant.” Merlin said. “I’m just surprised that you’ve never mentioned it. We help queer youths on the streets every day and yet you’ve never even mentioned it once.”

“I don’t like to talk about it.” An understatement, if the way Arthur avoided Merlin’s eyes was anything to go by. “It was a hard time for me, and I don’t know if you’ve noticed Merlin, but I’m not very open.”

Merlin smiled, “No, I guess not.”

“I talk to the kids.” Arthur offered. “When I go down to the shelters where I volunteer, I ask about them and give them some advice. It’s easier to talk about it to them than anyone else- even Leon. Maybe because they’re strangers, but also because all of us know what it’s like.  We talk and I think it gives them some idea that this isn’t the end, but the beginning.”

Merlin, still close to Arthur after their hug, crossed his arm with Arthur’s. He didn’t say anything else but he thought the movement conveyed his affection well enough.

After a moment, Merlin asked, “So if not then, when did you meet Leon? I thought you’ve known him since you were kids.”

“We were classmates at the state-school in Camelot. I was a year behind him, but he was in the lower level maths class. Not very good at maths, Leon.”

Arthur continued, “Leon didn’t know, if that’s what you’re wondering. He beat himself up about it- the fact that it took him a year to realize I never invited him back to my place or that I never mentioned any parents. Truth is that at the time, I was ashamed. Horribly embarrassed about everything that had happened with Uther and how I lived my life day-to-day. I had been raised proud, and it felt like the lowest blow to take charity and fight my way through the simplest tasks. I tried to hide what had happened to me, but most people on the streets took one look at me and knew my story. They usually guessed within minutes- a posh accent like mine: if it wasn't a drug addiction that got me kicked out, then it must have been being queer. And we both know how horribly common it is for queer kids to be tossed out.”

“Your accent” Merlin said suddenly. “I always call you posh. Oh-”

“Don't.” Arthur laughed, “I am posh. Or at least I have a posh accent. Never could get rid of it. Tried a couple different ones along the way, but everyone could tell I was faking it.”

“I like your accent.” Merlin said, “Even if it makes you sound like a git.”

“Oi.” Arthur knocked his shoulder with Merlin’s playfully.

They sat in silence for a while, sipping on their nigh caps. Arthur’s hand idly ran up and down Merlin’s arm, and Merlin tried not to move, afraid he would spook Arthur out of the affectionate touch.

Merlin hummed, “Leon told me that you came out to him when he caught you doing some shifty internet-searches.”

Arthur laughed, his good and boisterous laugh. “That bastard loves to tell that story. Yeah, well they don’t hand out any gay erotica at the public library, alright? I was seventeen. I had no privacy. And I was very, very randy.”

Merlin burst out laughing.

“I cried.” Arthur said, rather suddenly. “I cried when Leon caught me. I was so scared, Merlin, you have no idea. I was all too aware of what happened to queer kids when their friends found out. I didn’t want to lose the only friend I had. The only person I had.” Arthur smiled, remembering to himself. “I think Leon cried more than me. He likes to say that he’s a sympathetic-crier. Saw me crying, thought something horrible had happened, and then he just lost it. He told me he wouldn’t care if I liked boys as long as I promised never to scare him like that ever again. Then we got utterly smashed on his Dad’s brandy.”

“And the other thing?” Merlin asked.

Arthur let out a long breath. “Leon was my best mate. He knew something was up at home, even if he didn’t know what exactly. I think he thought I was hiding my sexuality from my parents so I stayed at his place a lot. Then he saw me going to one of the shelters and he asked if I volunteered there. I couldn’t lie to him anymore. He offered to let me stay at his place but I refused. But I think I spent every weekend at Leon’s house after that, whether I wanted to or not.”

“He’s a good bloke.”

“That he is. Which is why it’s hard to be cross with him when he forces me to tell you these things.” Arthur looked down at Merlin, who was still leaning against his side.

“Forces you?” Merlin raised an amused brow.

“Alright. Tells me opening up is for my own good because, and I quote, ‘Merlin’s a good friend and you don’t need to hide from him.’ Mind you, I still think you’re horrendous.” Arthur smiled, letting on his true opinion.

“Did I ever tell you about how I came out to my mum?”

“Yeah, about Sean from your maths class?” Arthur raised a brow. “Did you and Sean run off into the rainbow filled sunset?”

“No he punched me in the nose when I told him he was pretty.”

Arthur laughed. “That’s what you get for calling a boy pretty, Merlin.”

“I think you’re pretty.” Merlin said, raising his hand to brush the hair away from Arthur’s brow. “I have always thought that you were a good man, brave and stubbornly proud. But also very, very pretty.”

Arthur looked a bit shocked. Maybe it wasn’t the best time to tell Arthur that, but Merlin was bursting with affection and he had always been horrible about keeping his heart off his sleeve.

His slack jaw expression shifted into a smile, amusement glinting in his eyes. “You get punched in the nose for calling a boy pretty, and yet you still do it?”

“I was hoping this boy would find my compliment more appealing.”

“Might have preferred handsome.” Arthur grumbled, though his lips quirked up.

“Beautiful.” Merlin offered. “Regal? Stunning?”

Merlin caught the blush forming on Arthur’s cheeks and traced it with his thumb. Arthur huffed, “You’re horribly blunt about flirting.”

“Really? Because I thought all those times you insulted me were the worst flirting attempts I’ve ever seen.”

This time, Arthur’s whole face turned red with embarrassment. Merlin started laughing- only to have the wind knocked out of him as Arthur pushed him down into the sofa. Arthur hovered above him and Merlin’s breath caught in his throat.

“Shut up. You’re prettier.” Then Arthur kissed him, fervent and thrilling. It made Merlin’s heart race.

Merlin started laughing, so giddy. “That’s your retort?”

“Shut up, I’m kissing you.” Arthur said, nipping at Merlin’s lips.

“No, I shan’t. You can’t make fun of me for bad compliments and then call me pretty as well.”

Arthur pressed a kiss to Merlin’s chin, leaning just out of reach as he said, “I've thought you were gorgeous since the day we met. I had this feeling that one day we would be here.” Arthur ran a hand over Merlin's jaw. “But I dreaded the time when I would have to tell you about all my baggage.”

“You do not have baggage.” Merlin said forcefully.

“Merlin, I hoard my things in my flat because I still have a compulsive tendency to save everything. I still wake up at the sound of a pin dropping because I think my things are being stolen. I get random urges to take a bath because I have one. And let’s not forget my horrid, horrid trust issues.”

Merlin raised himself up and kissed the edge of Arthur's lips. “Not baggage. Look, I haven't a father. Don't even know his name because my mum would never tell me. I grew up poor- as in my mum having two jobs and me having an after-school job since I was fifteen kind of poor. And I lost my best friend when I was still a teenager.”

Merlin- I'm so sorry-”

Merlin’s thumb pressed to Arthur’s lips, stopping him. “I have a tendency to exaggerate the truth. I have commitment issues and I’m afraid of losing people. Contradictory, I know. Point being, everyone has a story. Everyone has baggage.”

Arthur nodded with a sigh, assenting to Merlin’s point.

“Now, can I go back to kissing you? Because I think you're still rather pretty and-”

Merlin never did finish that sentence.

***

Merlin woke up the next morning to the sound of an alarm that he had never heard before.

Merlin bolted upright with surprise.

“G’morning to you too.” Arthur grumbled as he turned off the alarm.

“Oh.” Merlin smiled as he remembered the night before. “Hi.”

Despite the fact that Arthur’s face was smashed into the pillow and his hair was fluffy with sleep, he looked like he had been awake before the alarm. Merlin figured that he had probably been unused to having someone in his bed and hadn’t slept well through the night.

Arthur curled an arm around Merlin’s waist, pulling him close. He nuzzled Merlin’s hip and laid his head on Merlin’s thigh. Merlin resisted the urge to pet him.

“We have to go to work.” Arthur grumbled.

“Yes, and I have to go back to my apartment. Wouldn’t want my boss asking why I’m in the same clothes from yesterday.”

Arthur looked up at him, a smile lingering on his lips. “Wouldn’t want that, you slag.”

Merlin snorted as he shimmied down the bed to kiss Arthur. He paused when he was a breath away from him, “We are...We’re good, right?”

Arthur’s eyes flicked across Merlin’s face before saying, “Yeah. You’re good, right?”

“I’m not sure Annis would approve of this.” Merlin said, hesitantly.

“If it comes to it, I will find another position for you.” Arthur offered, “As long as we get to keep doing this.”

“Fine by me,” Merlin said. Arthur nodded, his lips rubbing against Merlin’s with the movement. Merlin finally leaned forward to seal the kiss.

***

Merlin thought that would be the end of his encounters with Uther Pendragon. He wondered if the man would call again and Merlin would have to block his number and send a notice to the right people so they knew not to let him call again, but that didn’t happen. Instead Uther Pendragon arrived at Arthur’s office two days later.

Merlin’s desk was situated outside Arthur’s office so that he could see both Arthur and the hall, which led all the way down to the lift. So when he heard the lift ding open, he looked up to see who had arrived. This morning, he looked up to find a man he had never seen before. He had grey hair, wore an expensive navy suit, and walked down the hall like he owned it.

There might have been some clues to why Merlin knew who this was, despite never seeing the man even in a picture. But somehow he was certain it was Uther Pendragon. Perhaps it was the scar across his brow- which Arthur mentioned in passing during one of their conversations over the last few days. Perhaps it was the way he looked down at every single thing he came across in the office. Perhaps Merlin just had a gut feeling that this moment was bound to happen.

Merlin stood up, pulling in a breath, rounded his desk and blocked the entrance to the office.

He thanked god that Arthur had shut his office door only fifteen minutes before for a confidential call.

The man stopped at the entry as he saw Merlin blocking his path. His eyes scanned Merlin, like he was jotting down what he saw.

“You need to leave.” Merlin said.

The man raised a brow, “You know who I am?”

“You are Uther Pendragon, are you not?” Merlin asked.

“I am. But I am here to speak with Arthur, not with-” His eyes looked up and down at Merlin, saying exactly what he thought of Merlin.

“I have instructions from Mr. de Bois to have you removed from the premises.” Not a complete lie, since Arthur had said he would put a restraining order on Uther if he came to his workplace.

“I came here to discuss a matter in a professional way. If he is childish enough to not even see me, then this place is as useless as I thought it was.” Uther said.

Merlin had to hold his tongue. “Sir, if you will not leave of your own will, I will be forced to call security.”

“On what grounds?” Uther asked.

Merlin rolled his eyes, “You don’t have an appointment.”

With his mouth open, Uther looked scandalized, “I have been trying to get in contact with Arthur for weeks. The least you could do is let me pass so I may speak with him to conduct our business. In private.”

Merlin picked up the phone from across his desk, still blocking Uther’s way. He dialed an extension and waited, eyes on Uther as he said, “Can I get a security officer to Mr. de Bois office? Yes, now. Thank you.”

Uther looked surprised, yet impressed with Merlin’s action. The approval made Merlin angry.

“What kind of gall do you have to show up here when Arthur explicitly told you to stay away?” Merlin said, knowing he was stepping out of bounds.

“It’s none of your business what occurs between me and Arthur.”

“Arthur is my business and none of yours.” Merlin said concisely. “He has every right to kick you out without explanation.”

“Merlin what the hell is going on out here?”

Merlin whirled around at the sound of Arthur’s voice.

Arthur stepped out of his office and his eyes went from Merlin’s furious expression to the man in the doorway.

Their eyes met.

For a moment, Merlin could see the sixteen year old boy who had been abandoned by his only family. Then his eyes hardened and Merlin saw the strong and quick-tempered man.

The father spoke first. “Arthur.” He actually sounded bereft at the sight of his son.

Arthur turned to Merlin. “You called security?”

“Yes”

“Good.”

Then he turned his back and walked into his office, without a single word spoken to his estranged father.

Uther looked broken and Merlin realized that was the first he had seen of his grown son. Yet, Merlin couldn't bring up a shred of sympathy for a man who would let their child go cold and hungry.

Security arrived and Uther went willingly, though not without a final glare at Merlin.  When Merlin walked into Arthur's office he was facing the window, hand on his mouth.

Arthur said, “I don't feel anything. It's been over ten years since I've seen my father and yet I feel numb to it all. You think that's bad?”

“I think you're shocked.” Merlin said, sure that it would hit Arthur eventually.

Merlin came up behind Arthur and placed his hands on his shoulders. As soppy as the action felt, the massage on the stress-points of Arthur’s shoulders seemed to sooth him greatly. Arthur relaxed and let his shoulders drop from around his ears.

“I think I should speak to him. He obviously has something he wants to say to me, though I can’t imagine what it would be.” Arthur said. “I can’t stop thinking about him now that he’s forced himself back into my life.”

Merlin nodded, “Maybe. It might give you some closure”

Arthur huffed out a laugh, “Always so wise, Merlin.”

Merlin smiled, “Did you ever doubt me?”

“Never.” Arthur kissed him, cupping his chin and Merlin melted into it.

Pulling away rather suddenly, Arthur whispered, “Last night I dreamt of that day. I was by the big oak tree and instead of Michael Harrington, it was you. And instead of the teacher, it was my father who caught us and it was like I was sixteen all over again. Like I was sixteen.”

Arthur’s voice didn’t betray him, but the fact that he gave this fear up willingly, spoke volumes.

Merlin cupped his jaw, “You need to let him go. You need to close that part of your life to move onto the next.”

“I hate it, Merlin. I hate him.” Arthur said, and for the first time Merlin saw Arthur’s eyes water.

Merlin hushed him as he kissed Arthur’s cheek, “I’ll ring Leon, and all of us can set up a meeting with Uther. You don’t have to talk to him alone. You can see what he wants and then tell him to bugger off.”

Arthur huffed a small laugh, but the smile was enough for Merlin. “Good, I’ll set it up. Now sit down and I’m going to get you a cuppa. Yeah?”

Arthur nodded, “What would I do without you Merlin?”

“Absolutely no idea. You’re hopeless most of the time. Honestly.” Merlin rolled his eyes and left for the tea, but was satisfied to see Arthur looking better.

 ***

Merlin set up a meeting with Leon and negotiated a time and place with Uther’s secretary.  Arthur and Leon sat in the board meeting room at Pride&Support, and Merlin was set to meet with Uther Pendragon at eleven, to guide him to the meeting room. The less time Merlin was alone with the man, the better. Merlin wasn’t sure he could stay professional if they were alone for too long.

Uther entered the room in front of Merlin and sat in the seat across from Arthur and Leon without a word. In the tight silence, Merlin slid a mug of tea over to Uther, just the same as the ones in front of Arthur and Leon. Then Merlin sat on the opposite side of Arthur.

Uther looked at the people sitting on either side of Arthur.

 “Is this necessary?” Uther said with a glare. Merlin assumed he thought Leon and himself were intruders in his personal affairs.

Arthur spoke clearly. “Mr. Knight is my closest friend as well as a very skilled lawyer. Mr. Emrys is my personal assistant as well as my boyfriend. If you have an issue with either of them staying, then we cannot even begin to have this conversation.”

Uther looked enraged, “This is a private matter.” He was looking at Merlin as he said, “If you think it wise to bring someone like that to this negotiation, then it is not a professional meeting.”

“Speak carefully, Uther.” Arthur snapped. “One more word against Mr. Emrys and I will have you escorted out without hearing anything you have to say.”

Uther did not continue on that thread, but he did add, “You threw away your life for people like him.”

“I will throw away my body and soul if it meant I could help people. It's more than you ever did for your own son.”

“If you haven’t changed since you were a boy, then you are not my son.”

“Good. Then we agree on that at least.” Arthur said. “So why are you here?”

Uther looked determined to figure out a way to make Leon and Merlin leave, but after a long moment he seemed to realize that their presence was necessary to make Arthur stay.

“I have some paperwork that was not properly dealt with when we last interacted.”

“For the record,” Leon interrupted, “You are referring to when you officially disinherited my client, six years ago?”

Uther looked like he sucked on a lemon as he said, “Yes. My own lawyer failed to sort out some documents which pertained to Arthur. I had hoped that we would eventually come to an agreement and it would not come to this.”

“Unless you are here to apologize, I don’t see an agreement in our future.” Arthur said.

“I will not apologize for raising you with the values I believed to be right.”

“Not providing for your child, is that to what you refer?”

“You were hardly a child.” Uther sneered, “And I was doing it for your own good.”

I was a child.” Arthur said. “If I hadn’t been so proud, I could have had you arrested for child abandonment. I still could sue you for child neglect a thousand times over.”

Uther paused at that.

“You left, and I had no way of knowing where you went.” Uther countered.

“You told me to leave. I left. If you wanted me back you should have at least tried to find me.”

“How could I have found you? I hadn't any clue where you went.”

“Yes and checking train stations or even hiring a bloody investigator was too much for you, I suppose.”

“I wanted to settle this between ourselves- not involve other people with this family matter.” Uther glared again at Leon and Merlin. He obviously didn’t want anyone to know about Arthur. Merlin hated that anyone would be ashamed of their son like this. “I wasn’t about to hire someone to look into something so private.”

Arthur looked perplexed, giving a little laugh of shock.

“Do you know what I went through? I don’t think you have a clue.”

Uther rolled his eyes, as if dealing with a spoilt brat. “Don’t martyr yourself.”

“Not a clue.” Arthur huffed. “You know that I didn’t eat for days after I left. I was pick pickpocketed at the first bus station and hadn't a clue where to get food once in Camelot. I only had what I brought, which I lost within a month because I wasn’t smart enough to know how to protect my things. I learned that fairly quickly and I didn’t trust anyone for years. I didn’t have a permanent residence- as they like to call it- until I shared an eight hundred square-foot flat with four blokes when I was nineteen. I worked myself to exhaustion and you didn’t care whether I was alive or dead.”

Uther did look affected by this information and for the first time Merlin wondered if Uther had ever thought about where Arthur went after he was kicked out. Had he even known that Arthur had lived on the streets for years?

Uther looked remorseful as he said, “That isn’t true. I missed you every day. I thought about you all the time. Prayed for you to come home and be my son again.”

“Oh, I am so sorry- you did care if I was alive. But only if I came back willing to be the perfect son you wanted and not the son you got. Instead you let that imperfect son out to rot.”

Uther bristled, “If you had given up this lifestyle you could have had a simpler life. You made your choice, Arthur. I waited for you to make the choice to come back home.”

Arthur clenched his teeth.

“I thought you might have been persuaded. It’s been over a decade since I’ve known I was gay and I don’t think this is a phase or even a passing fancy.” Arthur said. “I am gay.”

“That wasn't how I raised you.”

“No it’s not.” Arthur said. “Which is why I left and why you disinherited your only child.” Arthur’s expression and tone shifted, from enraged and wounded man, to the diplomatic and clever businessman who worked at Pride&Support. “So, Mr. Pendragon, what documents do you need readjusting and how may I be of service?”

Uther looked miffed at the change, but he did not have any upper hand. So he pulled out a file and said, “It is only a few signatures and we can be on our separate ways.”

He slid the papers over, but Arthur didn’t even glance at them. Instead Leon took them immediately. Merlin watched as Leon pulled out his glasses to read all the fine print. Underneath the table Merlin snuck his hand over to Arthur’s, which was clenched into a fist on his thigh. With a little coaxing Arthur’s fingers relaxed and then held onto Merlin’s hand.

There were a few horrible minutes as Leon read through the documents in complete silence, and Merlin was fairly sure the only thing keeping Arthur sane was Merlin’s thumb running over his knuckles in a soothing rhythm.

“Arthur.” Leon said eventually. “Do not sign these papers.”

Arthur’s brow pinched together and pulled his hand out of Merlin’s so he could take the papers from Leon.  “As your lawyer, but mostly as your friend, I do not think it in your best interest to sign any of these documents. In fact, I think it would be best if you kept the originals yourself. These are just copies.”

Uther didn’t speak, which was suspicious.

“What are they Leon?” Arthur was studying the papers, and even reading over his shoulder, Merlin could barely tell what they were.

“A trust in your name, as well as a deed to an estate. Which if I understand from only one read through, both trust and deed will be transferred to you in two years when you are twenty-eight years old.”

Arthur looked up, not to Leon, but to Uther.

“She left me the Scotland cottage.”

Uther’s jaw tightened.

“My mother.” Arthur said with more fervor this time. “She bequeathed to me her small estate in Scotland. You were trying to make me sign it over to you.”

Uther held Arthur’s gaze, and without any remorse, he said “She would not have wanted you to have it, if she had known.”

Merlin didn’t have time to stop him. Arthur was up in a flash, knocking his chair over and sending his mug flying across the room, shattering against the wall. Both Merlin and Leon jumped up, but Arthur didn’t need to be held back. He stood his ground fiercely. He looked Uther in the eye, evaluating him for a long and unbearable moment. Then Arthur took the documents in his hand and ripped the papers into two neat pieces.

“I don’t give a damn about you anymore.” Arthur said, with such finality that Merlin felt cold.

Uther opened his mouth as if he was going to say something, but he halted as Arthur said, “One day. I will have a wedding and you will not be there. I won’t even send you an announcement. One day, I will adopt a child and you won’t be their grandfather. I would not dream of mentioning you to them. And yes, one day I will read the obituaries to see that you have passed away and I will not even think to go to your funeral. That’s what you have done. Not me. I may have left, but you abandoned me. And don’t think I’m happy about it. When I was freezing and bitterly low, I imagined that you would come and accept me like a good father. Now I know better. I have my own family and you have been forgotten.”

“So the answer is no, Uther. I will not sign the papers that will give you back my mother. She is the only parent I have.” Arthur raised his hand to show the ring on his index finger and for the first time Merlin realized it must have been his mother’s. “She would have loved me no matter who I loved. She was better than you would ever be.”

Arthur turned to Leon, “Take care of obtaining the original documents.”

He left without another word, leaving the room in a vacuum.

Leon was the first to speak, “I will be arranging a meeting with you to retrieve my client’s documentation.”

Uther looked furious. He obviously had expected Arthur to sign the documents and leave without Arthur even knowing what he signed away. The worst part was that it could have worked. Ten years ago when Arthur was still a reckless teenager, he would have signed the documents just to get rid of Uther faster. But Arthur was no longer that kind of reckless boy. He was sensible and a better man than his father would have expected.

Infuriated, Uther said, “Like Hell is he taking my property.” Uther took his suitcase and stood up.

Leon blocked the door, stating calmly, “I don’t think you realize that this is not your property. It never was. It was your wife’s and now it is Arthur’s. I will be visiting your office tomorrow to pick up those documents. Otherwise I will have to pursue a different course of action which will relieve several charges of child abandonment.”

Uther jaw clenched. He pushed past Leon without a word but Merlin had a feeling he would do as Leon bid.

Merlin looked up at Leon, only for a mere second, before he rushed out of the meeting room to find Arthur.

He wasn’t in his office but that wasn’t a surprise. Merlin thought of a couple places, but instead made his way to the tenth floor where there was a balcony that looked across Camelot.

As Merlin suspected, Arthur was leaning against the railing as he watched the cars and pedestrians below. He looked calm, like he was merely taking a break from work.

Merlin decided it was best to let him be for a while. He would come back in ten minutes if Arthur hadn’t come back to the office by then.

Merlin was closing the door when he heard.

“Stay.”

 Arthur was turned toward him, his hand reached out. Merlin did as he was told, and came forward. He leaned against the railing with Arthur, their shoulders touching.

“My mother left me her cottage.” To Merlin’s surprise Arthur was smiling. Grinning, in fact.

Merlin laughed, “That’s all you have to say?”

“Oh I have a lot to say. Too much to even begin to sort it all out. But I’m tired of it all. Right now, I’m thinking about driving up there, seeing what it looks like and if I have to make any repairs. I’m thinking about taking a holiday and bringing you with me to Scotland. I’m thinking about officially owning property.”

Merlin realized the significance of this. Even if a flat in Camelot City was enough for Arthur, there had to be something about owning the cottage, especially in the estate where his mother had once lived.

“We’ll drive up this weekend, how about that?” Merlin hummed, “Leon will have the documents by this week, I’m sure of it.”

Arthur smiled, “I’d like that very much.” 

***

It ended up taking longer than a week, but by the end of the month Leon had sorted out all the details and Arthur officially had all the documents pertaining to his mother’s cottage. Much to Uther’s rage, but Merlin had a feeling that the entire affair was out of even Uther’s control. As soon as he could, Arthur drove up to the estate and called Merlin from Scotland, excitedly telling him all the horrible repairs the cottage needed because it hadn’t been kept up for over twenty years. Nonetheless, two weeks later, Merlin and Arthur made their way to the cottage for a long weekend.

Arthur had managed to take out most of the wreckage from the little cottage and clean out some of the dust from twenty years neglect. Merlin personally thought it was the perfect project for Arthur, something to get his mind off his father but also come to terms with it at the same time. Either way, the one bedroom and one bathroom cottage was perfectly snug, with had a beautiful view of the lush green hills.

Although the cottage had been cleaned, there was a severe lack of furniture. Arthur had managed to get a mattress into the bedroom and a table and chairs into the kitchen, but it was otherwise sparse.  Luckily Merlin had the foresight to bring enough blankets and pillows to make a cozy nest in the bedroom.

Although it was supposed to be a holiday, they had spent most of their first day clearing out the cottage and putting in new pieces of furniture that they had bought at an antiques shop. Well, Arthur worked. Merlin mostly watched from the kitchen counter with a beer in hand as his shirtless boyfriend moved a heavy dresser with ease.

Arthur eventually caught on to him. “Are you going to help? Or are you going to lounge on my counter all day?” Arthur had asked.

“Hm?” Merlin asked, watching Arthur’s broad chest carefully. “You’re looking fine doing it by yourself.” Merlin didn’t notice the way Arthur had grinned at him. Then before he had known it, Arthur picked him up off the counter. Beer clumsily tossed to the sink, Arthur carried him into the bedroom.

That night, as they lay on the mattress in the bedroom, the beginnings of the summer heat stopped them from getting under the blankets. Instead they sprawled naked on the bed, lying on top of each other for warmth.

Arthur was looking up at the ceiling, a hand under his head. Merlin was curled by his side, watching his profile.

“Did you go to Pride last year?” Merlin asked.

“Hm?” Arthur tilted his head to indicate he was listening. “No, Annis didn’t give me a shift at the parade last year, why?”

“No, I meant- you know. For yourself. Did you go to Pride?” 

“Oh.” Arthur looked over at him, “Sort of. I went to a friend’s party. Gwen, I think you met her once. She’s bi and her boyfriend is bi too. Her brother’s trans and he has a girlfriend- Mithian. We had drinks before they went to the parade. I didn’t end up going.”

Merlin pulled Arthur close so that Arthur’s head rested on his shoulder. “Why not?”

Arthur shifted awkwardly, “I just didn’t.”

Merlin ran his hand through Arthur’s hair, finding out that petting Arthur was one way to make him relax and open up.

Arthur sighed, “I was the fifth wheel and I didn’t want to go see the happy couples at Pride. Or find a one-night stand.”

Merlin smiled, satisfied that Arthur was slowly opening up to him. Arthur smiled back at him, looking more and more relaxed as Merlin continued to comb his hands through his hair.

“I want to go this year.” Merlin said. “I go every year. Mum stitched together a bi pride flag for me because she thinks the plastic ones are crap. She would make you a rainbow one if you wanted.”

Arthur said, “I don’t mind going, I love Pride. I just wasn’t up for it last year. Pride was the first time  I didn’t feel like a stranger in my own body.”

Merlin ran his fingers over Arthur’s brow. Over his hairline and then his brows. Arthur scrunched his nose but Merlin didn’t stop, instead running his finger over Arthur’s nose next. “The picture on your office desk. When was that?”

“My first Pride.” Arthur said, “I was twenty-one. I had seen Camelot’s Pride Parade for years, but it took me a while to get over- well- everything.”

“I can imagine.” Merlin said, his fingers going over Arthur’s jaw now. “Not to sound horribly cheesy, but I am proud of you. For everything. Be proud of who you are and what you’ve overcome.”

Arthur smiled, “You’re soppy.”

Merlin ran his finger over Arthur’s lips, “I don’t care. I will be soppy as much as I like. I’m proud. Of my gay boyfriend. Of my bi self. In this queer bed.”

Arthur snorted with laughter, “Come here, you queer idiot.” He pulled Merlin down and kissed him crooked, his nose bumping into Merlin’s cheek.